This writing finds me on the Thursday after Easter. Holy Week and the Easter services are just in the rear-view mirror. All told, it wasn’t a bad week and there was a little uptick in worship attendance from the previous year, especially on Easter Sunday. I know that several of our members brought in visiting relatives to worship; others—perhaps more nominally connected to the church—came to worship for reasons of their own. In any event, I was glad to see the people who were here.
The appearance of new faces and the reappearance of some lesser-known faces reminded me of a blogpost that someone on social media had shared with me during Holy Week. “fatherjeremy”, an Episcopalian priest in Oregon, stated that there were things that congregations could do to prepare themselves for the visitors who come to the church’s doorstep on Easter. Some of his suggestions were common sense applications of hospitality; say “hello” to someone you don’t know; if someone is sitting in the place where you normally sit (i.e. “your” pew), cheerfully sit somewhere else; be helpful (especially if the visitor appears lost or confused about what to do next); just be yourself (unless, of course, “being yourself” means being rude and surly; then you may want to rethink that).
However, the biggest takeaway I had from the blogpost was this: do not think you’re being cute by saying to people that you don’t recognize, “You know we are here every Sunday,” or “You know we are open more than Christmas and Easter” (the same thing, by the way, goes for doing this to people whose attendance in church may be infrequent). That sort of thing is deadly, regardless if it’s clergy or laity making the comments. The attempt to shame folks in this way isn’t cute, clever or funny. The attempt to needle isn’t going to be well taken. It’s just rude. So, please, don’t go there.
While it might be a little late to apply this to Easter, 2017, Christmas is coming up in eight months, or so. Given that we are trying to find ways of practicing radical hospitality at Salem, it’s a good lesson to file away. It all fits into one of the core principles of hospitality: “Be kind to one another.”
I don’t know what brings people to church at Christmas and Easter; it might be an invitation from a family member or it might be a sense of spiritual awakening or a desire to connect to community. In any event, I’m just glad people come. Perhaps if they are treated well and find the worship experience a welcoming one, they might be inclined to come back. One can always hope, right?
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Jim Hoppert